How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith is a book that has the power to transform us. I pray it does. As Ibram X. Kendi said, “We need this book.” I hope everyone who reads this will get a copy and read it too.
I have known Clint’s work because I listened to the Justice in America podcast, which he did the first two years with Josie Duffy Rice. This week I’ve learned more about his poetry. Here he is reading two of my favorites: “Counting Descent” and “History Reconsidered.”
“History Reconsidered” is a powerful poem that I’ve been thinking about all day. I wrote this golden shovel poem using Smith’s line: “Oppression doesn’t disappear just because you decided not to teach us that chapter.”
We Need to Write a New Chapter
We were lied to when we studied oppression
of enslaved American people. It doesn’t
count that we vaguely learned slaves disappear
when Civil Wars end. A moral, righteous and just
country would repent and repair wrongs because
white supremacy is evil. Truth. But you
can see from what’s happening today that many decided
to nurture white supremacy, and not
dismantle it in order to create a more perfect union. Some want to
halt the telling of truth, the new books that can teach
our children and adults that some Americans indeed proclaimed us
to be the land of equality and freedom, while simultaneously living the lie that
they owned other human beings. We need to write a changed chapter.
Smith’s book is full of new (and some known) content that is so heavy and difficult to hear, but Clint’s love and respect for people and his poetic language contribute to making the book a readable treasure that in fact we do need.
Here are just a few of the old quotes Smith includes that show some of the truths we were not taught:
“And if any slave resist his master, or owner, or other person, by his or her order, correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction, it shall not be accounted felony.” Virginia Slave Code, 1705 (Footnote iv, Loc 1274)
“So far as history reveals, no other slave society, whether of antiquity or modern times, has so much as sustained, much less greatly multiplied, its slave population by relying on natural increase.” ~C. Vann Woodward, historian, 1983 (Loc 364)
“Louisiana looks to the formulation of a southern confederacy to preserve the blessings of African slavery.” ~Louisiana’s commissioner in a speech at the time of secession, 1861 (Loc 833)
Follow along and join us in the Virtual Book Club on How the Word is Passed.